Dodson ready to renovate Johnson House

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2001

With 100 percent of the funding in place for restoration of the William Johnson House, Bob Dodson is ready to get the plans off the drawing board and into construction.

Dodson, superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park, learned last week that $1.1 million has been approved for the 1840s house built on State Street by a free black man and the John McCallum House, which shares a wall with the famous barber and diarist’s home.

By sometime in the fall, specifications for the job will be published and bids taken, Dodson said. He expects contractors to be in place by the first of next year. The work is scheduled to be complete in 56 weeks, with a projected 2003 opening of the historic complex.

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&uot;About two-thirds of the funding goes to the McCallum House,&uot; Dodson said, describing the poor structural condition of the house and necessity for rebuilding three outside walls.

The complex of the Johnson House, a dependency behind the Johnson House and the McCallum House will spotlight the life and times of William Johnson, Dodson said. The complex is on the south side of State between Canal and Wall streets.

&uot;It’s going to be one heck of a place to visit,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s going to be a busy little place on State Street.&uot;

Plans call for the McCallum House to have on the first floor a visitor reception area, a small sales area and restrooms. The second floor will be devoted to offices for workers at the site.

At the Johnson House, the first floor will include extensive exhibits and the second floor, furnishings that include some original Johnson family pieces and other items in keeping with the style and period.

Design work on the exhibits has begun, Dodson said. &uot;We’re having some major universities review our plan and we will have public reviews of the exhibit plan, too,&uot; he said. The Natchez public will have an opportunity to read the design text and make comment, probably by Oct. 15, he said.

William Johnson became prominent in Natchez during the 1830s and ’40s, and some of Natchez’s wealthiest men became his friends and barber shop customers.

Johnson’s diary, containing details of day-to-day life in Natchez, has been published by Louisiana State University Press.

The Johnson House is one of three sites making up the Natchez National Historical Park and under development by the National Park Service.

Melrose, a grand antebellum mansion on the outskirts of Natchez, and the 1716 site of the French Fort Rosalie on S. Canal Street are the other two park areas. Melrose was opened to the public soon after the Park Service acquired it in 1990.

The fort area, center of French government activity from 1716 to 1729 and one of the oldest European settlements on the Mississippi River, has moved slowly in development because of failure of the Park Service to reach agreements with some of the landowners at the site.

The Park Service has purchased 11 of the 31 tracts in the area along Canal Street between D.A. Biglane Street and Green Street.